The government strategy on climate and sustainability education, published on the 21st of April provides a strong vision in supporting schools and teachers in implementing climate and sustainability education. The highlights include curriculum innovation through a new natural history GCSE, and a commitment to strong leadership of sustainability in school by having a sustainability lead in all schools by 2025. Furthermore, the sustainability leads will get funded carbon literacy training as part of their role.

Bee hotel. Photograph author’s own.

The University is dedicated to promoting better climate education in schools and colleges, bringing together our climate experts with our long history in teacher training. We are delivering our National Action Plan on climate education, which emerged from our Climate Education Summit held in September 2021, alongside the UK Government and partners. As part of this plan, we are pioneering an Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Framework on Climate and Sustainability Education that will embed climate education and sustainability throughout all our teacher training programmes. This work on developing expertise on climate and sustainability education aligns closely with the vision set out in the strategy. Action point 2 from the National Climate Education Action Plan states:

“All teacher trainers and initial teacher trainees should be able to access training that empowers them to effectively incorporate climate education within their teaching across all levels and subjects”.

In a previous blog, Climate education – global change through local action, I wrote about how educators are motivated to make a difference and embedding quality climate education for all is at the heart of a sustainable future. At the University, our position as Teacher Educators is that climate and sustainability education is a skill set that all teachers should have the opportunity to develop. Our ITT framework for climate education and sustainability has been developed by academics at the University. The framework aligns with the principles set out by the COP26 Universities Network working paper, entitled ‘Mainstreaming Climate Change Education in UK Higher Education Institutions’. The ITT climate education and sustainability framework sets out three core areas of development. Firstly, the Positionality of trainee teachers as teachers and educators, how they see the teaching of climate change, their own knowledge and understanding in the area to teach it effectively. A survey by Teach the Future stated that 70% of teachers felt they had not received adequate training on the climate crisis. Therefore, building this work into ITT courses is a vital step to support the future generation of teachers.

The second area of development is the study of Climate Justice – this area is critical to understanding the anthropologic impact of climate change. Climate Justice cuts across all aspects of life and links closely to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It enables debate around equity and diversity and how the impact of climate change is being felt by the most marginalised communities. Therefore, the importance of the SDGs are built into the framework to enable critical conversations and a systems approach, adapted from the Advanced HE’s key competences for sustainability, to thinking about the climate emergency.

The final part of the framework addresses how teachers can empower pupils to take personal action to build a sustainable future. Within this area, an understanding of how personal action can ripple out into local, national and international action are explored to support pupils to build their eco-capabilities. This, according to recent research by Walshe, Moula, & Lee, 2022 supports pupil in managing eco- anxiety and serves as a pathway to wellbeing and sustainability.

Potato harvest. Photograph author’s own.

Our ITT framework is going to have a pilot roll out for academic year 2022-2023, led by us. The content and delivery will be evaluated on a termly basis. The evaluation will be led by students as key stakeholders in the development of the framework. A range of HEIs across England have been invited to pilot the University of Reading ITT framework. This national snapshot will support the evaluation to understand how the ITT framework for climate education and sustainability can be implemented, at scale.

The latest IPCC report AR6 [III] (Mitigation of Climate Change) states that “Changing from a commercialised, individualised, entrepreneurial training model to an education cognizant of planetary health and human well-being can accelerate climate change awareness and action” (chapter 5 P. 70).  Therefore, introducing further curricular content in ITT courses, specifically targeting the climate emergency and sustainability education is a step in the right direction.

Finally, the government strategy specifically asserts that it will:

“continue to work with higher education to identify opportunities to work together to further enhance best practice in teacher training and the teaching of sustainability within university courses”.

Our pioneering work in climate education, and the pilot roll out of the ITT Framework, will support not just the government’s vision for delivering climate and sustainability education across the sector, but also our own.

Dr Nasreen Majid is an Associate Professor in the Institute of Education.